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Sunday, 03 June 2012


It always amazes me that you need to borrow money to get a better credit score, and that you are rated poorly if you never needed to get a credit because you actually only bought what you could afford... Well, bank logic does not necessarily equal common sense.

Well, they're not looking at how much you can afford. They're looking at how likely you are to continue repaying them what you owe them. In that sense it seems reasonable to look at your track record of doing just that.

Granted, there are more than a few flaws in the system. (For instance, I have several items on my credit report of less than $50, for which no creditor is listed--or listed as "Not reported." So I couldn't pay those off if I wanted to, unless, I assume, I could successfully GUESS at the identity of the creditor. I think I can get these removed by "disputing" them, but I'm not yet sure yet if I can dispute a debt that I also can't identify.)


"It's a good thing "TOPMOBILE" won't fit on a custom license plate. I don't need to be any more eccentric than I already am."

But "TOP CAR" would fit. Actually, "TOPMOBL" would be far from the worst concatenation I've seen on a license plate, thought I doubt it would be acceptable to the editor of such an earnestly literate publication.

I think you should get a custom plate in honor of your readers/commenters: TOPMOB.

My dad lives in CT and has a V6 AWD RAV4. It seems like it's just the right size and the V6 motor has good power but gets decent fuel economy too. Good choice.

I'd be interested in your considerations re: choice of the RAV. You know, vs the Honda CRV, the Subaru Forester etc etc.

Even more than when we lust after or buy cameras it seems to me that choosing a car has the power to turn rational human beings into creatures capable of the most bizarre decisions :-)

Trash cans? As in, you don't have to pay a trash removal service to take it away? I live in a municipality that covers that, and I am speculating that you do not?


TOP GUN is available in Wisconsin.
TOP TOP, TIP TOP and 1 TOP are too. Skip TOP ONE.

The only vanity plate I ever tried to get was NONE.
I figured on a parking ticket, when they wrote none, I would never get the ticket identified to me. The state figured that out too, and would not issue it. But that was when I lived in MO. WI might let it pass.

That seems a very good price for your old car. Of course I forgot that this year was not still 2008.

Mercedeses are not what they used to be, but a Toyota SUV? You seem to go all for practicality now :-)

The credit rating thing is funny; I remember a friend complaining that when he moved to the US for a work gig he obviously had no credit history and needed to get all sorts of paperwork done in order to get a credit card in the US. Incidentally, I was reading an article that with the help of more powerful software, new credit companies are looking at different metrics than the old ones, so the part about having previous credit history might change at some point.

Congratulations on your new RAV4!

I'm still driving my 2001 model. I've found 4WD with good M/S tires to be more than useful when I photograph in the Sierras (California).


Best automobile I've ever owned.

Does the new RAV4 have 18" wheels?



Would you be willing to accept large prints in trade? 112 prints, 20"x30", Entrada Rag, monochrome fine art landscape images. You get to pick the images.

Only half joking, here.

Mike, you said: "I think I can get these removed by "disputing" them, but I'm not yet sure yet if I can dispute a debt that I also can't identify."

It's not your job to identify the debtor; That's the debtor's job. You most certainly can dispute them, based exclusively on the fact that they aren't identified.

"you don't have to pay a trash removal service to take it away?"

There are some things that are not collected, mainly yard waste. (Although leaves are collected twice in the fall.)


I'd rather have the Merc... Bought mine a month and a half ago, just returned from a three day, 1100 jaunt with it.


Good and practical as the Land Rover and Toyota Prius were, I much prefer driving this one. :-)

"I'd be interested in your considerations re: choice of the RAV. You know, vs the Honda CRV, the Subaru Forester etc etc."

I didn't even cross-shop it with other crossover SUVs...it was the only one I drove. The real consideration was whether I was going to keep my summer "play" car (Miata) or not...once I decided to keep it, then the other car needed to be "just plain practical." The Honda, Subaru and the new Mazda don't come with 6-cylinder engines, and the Ford and Chevy competitors don't hold their residual values as well. QED.

I think the Mazda CX-5 is the best car in the class, and I think it's the only one that comes with a manual transmission. It's the one I'd get at this point in time if I were getting a crossover as my only car, especially if mileage were important to me. But the Toyota seemed more practical as a winter/practical car to counterbalance the Miata.

Really, the biggest consideration was the 0% financing. That makes it possible to build my credit on Toyota Corp.'s dime. Don't look a gift horse..., etc.


Funky! And supercharged. I generally prefer supercharged engines to turbocharged.

I did enjoy owning/driving the Mercedes. A positive ownership experience, I have to say.


Super important tip. Accept only cash. Did I say ONLY cash? And go buy one of those pens that detect counterfeit money. Or complete transaction at your bank.

Great car choice btw. Especially that sweet 6 cyl.
Use it in good health.

Call it what it is, a Station wagon!

SUV is a marketing slogan not a type of vehicle.

If you do not believe me just check the registration/title.

Despite having lived there I confess that this post leaves me flabbergasted about the US (and perhaps the rich world in general).

Getting rid of a large luxury car only 5 years old, to buy a brand new even larger one... so that you can haul yard waste once in a while? And so that you can signal something to shadowy private rating agencies about your ability not to forget loan repayments?

I am sorry I don't mean to be hard on you, from the comments above (and from memory) upgrading to a new car every few years is widely regarded as an unremarkable thing. But from the perspective of the rest of the world... just wow.

I don't quite know why I don't have the same response reading about $2000 cameras. That's also a lot of money! But not in the same league, and seemingly better justified by serious interest.

Congrats on the Rav4. I have a 2005 model (just before they embiggened it and removed the bumper panels), and it's a great vehicle.

If you haven't already, consider getting the 'trunk' cover. Very useful for storing stuff in the back and hiding it from prying eyes.

If you're using this as your sole data point for all the evils of the United States or "the rich world," then you're not only getting a very false read on the data, you're even getting a false read on ME--overall, I've bought less expensive cars than I could afford and have generally kept them for far longer than the average. (Average duration of car ownership in the U.S. is now ~71 months, which is the longest it's EVER been. I've kept several cars considerably longer than that.) The Benz is an aberration because it's too fancy for our needs and essentially too valuable to keep. I'll lose $6-7k on the swap, but I'll make it up again at the end of the 5-year loan period, when the Toyota will be worth far more than what the Benz will be worth in another 5 years. And in the meantime, we'll have a car that better suits our needs and is advantageous to our credit.

If you don't approve, I don't really care.


Congrats on the new wheels and good luck selling the old one!

There must be something in the air, as I just bought a new car, too! Meet Captain Slow, the WRX:

2012 Subaru WRX, May 22, 2012

Pretty!! And nuthin' slow about a WRX.

Three pedals?


"The only vanity plate I ever tried to get was NONE.
I figured on a parking ticket, when they wrote none, I would never get the ticket "

You dodged a bullet on that one, read this


I sold an old car on eBay. Good experience overall. The downsides were eBay's fees, and an early bidder who ran the price up and then asked me to cancel his bids (perhaps this affected the final price). OTOH, because I used an auction, and because my car got national exposure, I think I got about the best price I could have. There was also a minimum amount of dealing with tire kickers.

I photographed the car from every angle, close up, made a simple HTML gallery using Lightroom, posted the gallery on my own website (with keywords and contact info, though I don't know if that helped) and provided a link in my eBay listing. I made the listing description as accurate and comprehensive as I could and included my cell number. I'm pretty sure that I came out ahead after considering the value of my time and eBay's fees but YMMV.

hey Mike, I drive a Toyota Rav4 up here in Canada and it's never failed me...so far. Very practical, it's the first automatic I have ever owned. Toyota's pretty well respected, I remember when I drove my Tacoma pickup truck from Toronto to Haines, Alaska, I received a lot of compliments from the Alaskans...I'm sure you'll enjoy the Rav4 especially in the winter.

"improbable: "I am sorry I don't mean to be hard on you, from the comments above (and from memory) upgrading to a new car every few years is widely regarded as an unremarkable thing. But from the perspective of the rest of the world... just wow."

Not much of a "wow" from Tokyo. Folks here unload barely used cars regularly. In major cities, most cars are driven only on weekends which is nice because you can buy a very low mileage vehicle for unbelievably low prices. Then you get to fork over some of that savings for the annual/semi-annual inspections (not sure of current price, but it was about$800 assuming no problems. Assuming no problems---hahaha.) Try to find a 10-year old car here. There used to be, and perhaps still, is a nice business of selling the used vehicles overseas---particularly Russia. A friend claims to make a little side money by shipping a car or two a year back to Australia to sell.

So nah, 'taint an "Only in 'merica" type of thing.

I think you're trading down, but I've thought about the same sort of trade myself. I read all good things about the RAV4. There are many large & odd loads that demand me to own a station wagon or SUV. But hauling yard waste? It's not "waste" at all. Start a compost heap. Set your mower to "mulch." I own an acre, and nothing leaves my property except smoke from my chiminea.

In addition to the other big car sites, list your Benz on a fan site forum. You'll be appealing to those who most appreciate your brand, and they'll pay attention to the details. As for the paperwork, I've sold cars without any complications. You might contact your bank or credit union, and see if they'll oversee a closing for you there. If the buyer is borrowing, his bank will do.

I better not show the wife the Merc. She keeps telling me she wants to replace the 07 Civic. Only because it is now paid for and I just purchased a Jetta Sportwagen TDi.

"You dodged a bullet on that one, read this http://www.snopes.com/autos/law/noplate.asp"

That is hysterical! I'd never heard those stories before.


You may find very strange folks lurking on Craigslist. They seem to come out of the woodwork when a car appears. A number seem to be shilling for off brand car insurers. Others were incredibly uniformed.

Good luck with the new whip.

I gave up selling my old car myself years ago. You will be besieged by telephone callers who will give you the third degree in order to find some reason for not looking at it and then swear at you when your polite answers to their questions uncover what they were looking for. You will also get repeated calls from the same person who strangely can only look at it after school lets out and before his parents get home. You will set aside time for test drives and these people will not show up. And your friends will repeat stories of sellers being forced out of their cars at knife point by the test driver who is just stealing it. I just drive my car to CarMax and take whatever they will give me.

Cars.com. Easy and cheap.

Good luck selling your Benz. They are great when young and
money pits when old. Of course I would have gone into a newer miata and a set of snow tires but I'm an impractical nutter.


BTW when did the RAV4 turn into a real car? The only ones I see in my neighborhood are these 2 door things that have only half of a roof and this umbrella sort of thing covering up the back, sort of like a half size Gremlin convertible.

Growing up on the farm we used to haul all sorts of stuff around in an old diesel Mercedes. 500 pounds of cement, the occasional goat, firewood and all sorts of stuff, back then a Mercedes was as tough as any pickup.

BTW, if you want to have some real fun , pull up next to a police car carrying a police dog with a goat in your back seat.

Of course my family were the same people that managed to get a cow on a cable car in San Francisco.

I understand Improbable's viewpoint, it's crazy what people spend on their cars. I know people who spend more on their car payments and insurance than on rent! Having grown up poor in South America, it boggles my mind what Americans consider poverty and how money is spent--most "poor" Americans would be considered relatively okay in such parts of the world.

Not an indictment of you Mike--like you I keep my cars for a long time--bought used years ago with 82K miles, my Subie is 15 years old and counting. But the need by many Americans to constantly replace barely used cars indicates how excessive and desensitized our culture has become.

Now, how do I justify all of my cameras?

Improbable might be a little hard on the US. But the hard fact is, that the US with 5% of the world population is consuming 25% of the energy.
I don't want to turn this into a moral debate about your choice of car. But on a more general level, I think it would be better for the world if the gas-price in the US was significantly higher ;-)
As a funny coincidence, I'm off for Detroit tomorrow, to study some car-industry from at historical perspective (I'm a historian). The best choice for the climate would probably be to go by boat. Never the less I have decided to fly....

Dear Jack,

Indeed, different DMV's are differently savvy. Some years ago I was astonished to see, in Massachusetts, the license plate QQQQ. Most state computer systems catch that one. California's certainly does.

Some decades ago, a girlfriend of mine really wanted me to get the license plate for my motorcycle, CTIDE, under the theory that Ctein and Ctide wait for no man.

pax / Ctein

Dear Mike,

I'm sorry that was rude of me, I should have kept my mouth shut. Despite the disclaimer it does inevitably sound like a personal criticism, and I'd like to apologise.

It's a tired expression but "culture shock" is what I was trying to express... at realising once again just how differently people live in different places. I don't think any of them are really wrong (and of course you have to make decisions within the system you live in) but the mental shock of going from one to another is real. But should perhaps mostly be kept to oneself.

To David H, yes I'm sure Japan or any of the other top-10% countries would be much the same.

Regards, Improbable

Hi Mike, I would love your Merc but I live in the UK and worse, it would not fit in my garage which was built in the seventies for British cars of the time (about as wide as a cricket bat).

The RAV4 is a great vehicle and the only 4WD 'ute I like more is the Skoda Yeti, which sadly is not available in the US :) However I think you made a sound choice - I have lived through a Great Lakes winter in a RWD Ford and it was no fun at all.

All the best...

I wouldn't describe the RAV4 as bigger than the Merc, perhaps a more usefully shaped trunk, but not bigger.

Toyota - oh how....sensible!

Living here in Addis the word Toyota puts a 80% premium on any car over about 10 years old. We are about to leave to return to Europe and I have just successfully sold two Toyotas for a greater sum than I paid three years ago. Strange! Cars really can appreciate in value.

We will not be buying a Toyota on our return to Europe - need a change although the reliability and toughness of these cars have been exemplary.

Andrew from Addis

Good luck with the RAV. I have had 3 so far. 97 was a lease, 2001 got sold last year with 160,000 km on it and was running fine. And the Honda dealer offered me $3000 for it.
And the new one last year, running fine.
Between the 3, I have had to replace 1 wheel bearing ( my cost) and a rear wiper motor (warranty).

After my Chyrsler, its a dream to have a car that costs nothing for repairs. And is fun to drive.

Thanks Hugh,
I think I will dodge another bullet and skip vanity plates completely.
Crazy funny.

I don't think you have to take cash. A cashier's check from a bank is almost the same as cash and is way safer than $20k in bills. Plus banks won't write a cashier's check unless they know for certain that money is in the buyer's account. Typically, a bank will only give a loan for 80% of a car's value since if they had to repo it and auction it that is all they will get back. I had a guy try to tell me he'd buy my car for 80% of what I was asking because that's all the bank thinks it's worth. I informed him I know how loans work and that he could have it for 100% of my asking price.

Sure, you'll meet some crazies through Craigslist but you'll also get interested parties. You'll also gets lots of scammers on Craigslist. Typically those scams come from Africa and you can tell they are scams because their email is in broken English or they will keep putting you off about meeting to look at the car. I'd go to gmail and set up a temporary account like mikescaraccount@gmail.com that forwards emails to your actual email. That way people don't know your real email account and you can cancel that account at any time so you don't keep getting spam months later. Plus, dealing in emails is better so that people don't also get your cell or home phone numbers.

My wife and I have sold three cars personally but none were worth more than $8k and one was sold to my next-door neighbor of all people. So, I have no idea how selling a $20k car privately will go. But you will get more money than you would get in trade in, that's for sure.

I sold one car and bought another on Craigslist. Both transactions were very easy. OTOH, I'm in DC, so the market is a lot larger. I don't know how popular Craigslist is in your area.

"I wouldn't describe the RAV4 as bigger than the Merc, perhaps a more usefully shaped trunk, but not bigger."

I was hoping to be able to make the assertion without having to look up all the actual numbers, but: the Rav4 is 13.7" taller, 3.7" longer, and 3.5" wider, albeit 100 pounds lighter than the C280. Cargo capacity in the Rav4 behind the front seats with the back seats folded down is 73 cubic feet, vs. the Mercedes' trunk at 12 cubic feet.

I would call that "bigger." You can call it as you see it, of course.



Good luck with the RAV4. I personally would have kept the Benz and bought a cheap beater pickup truck for hauling junk around. A cheap beater truck is a wonderful thing. You don't really care what it looks like and the most basic insurance is all it needs. But it will carry just about anything and can even be a backup vehicle when needed. Plus they are super easy and cheap to work on.

But I do understand the allure of driving something new and using Toyota's 0% money. I too may be doing that very thing in the not too distant future when I replace my current commuter vehicle (1984 Toyota Supra) with either a Scion FR-s or a Fiat 500 Abarth.

Oh and by the way did you get the Miata's cooling system sorted out?
It really sounds like it is either low on water, bad thermostat, or the aux cooling fan is not running. All of them pretty easy and cheap fixes.

"Oh and by the way did you get the Miata's cooling system sorted out?"

Yep. Turns out there's an auxiliary cooling fan that kicks on when the A/C is on, and the contact had corroded and the fan was inoperable. A local mechanic has requested the needed bits from Mazda and the car will be put right in due course.


Thanks, Mike!

Absolutely three pedals. WRXs and STIs are manual-only cars! WRX has a 5-speed, the STI has a 6-speed.

Oddly enough, the BRZ can be had with an automatic, which seems, well, just wrong.

PS: I named the new car after James May of Top Gear- Captain Slow is his nickname and I just liked the idea of a WRX being called slow, when it is pretty much the opposite of slow.

"I named the new car after James May of Top Gear- Captain Slow is his nickname"

I definitely got the reference--ironic in your case, not so much in James's. [g]

He's my favorite "character" on The Three Stoo...er, on Top Gear.


I've sold a number of cars on Craigslist. You will get a number of flakes, but all in all craigslist is a good site. Be sure to post a lot of details about the car plus pictures. Delete all the queries that reveal they didn't read the ad ("what color is the car?" when the ad stated the color) and the author doesn't know anything about the car model.

re: cash vs. certified or bank checks--
just be careful about certified/bank checks. They are easy to counterfeit, given laser printers, etc. By the time your bank bounces the check (7-10 biz days), the car may be long gone. Best to go with the buyer to his/her bank, and have it drawn there, right in front of your eyes.

In real estate closing (a former life), every so often I'd get a memo that a seller/title company unknowingly accepted at closing a bank check on a closed or non-existent account, or from a bank that is long out of existence. Two or so weeks later, the damage is done--the buyer has mortgaged the property to the hilt and/or resold it to other unwitting victims. Everyone now claims ownership, the seller is out of money and can't resell the property, and the title insurance companies are left to clean up the mess. The con-man gets away. Spoken like a lawyer, wouldn't you agree?

The 0% deal is really good, and the RAV4 is a good deal. I'm a CR-V man, myself. 140K+ on my 2007 EX and it still runs like a top, with slightly better fuel economy than the RAV4. I expect to own it for another 140 clicks at least. So says my wife. :)

The RAV is an excellent vehicle. Prepare yourself to be amazed.

Regarding vanity plates, it's too bad "drop table" is too long for a plate.

Please remember that even Certified Checks and Cachier's Checks can be forged.

Daimler-Benz makes interesting vehicles of all sorts. Sadly owning a Benz after five or six years brings to mind the old comment applied also to BMW motorcycles and cars
Bring More Wampum.

Servicing is expensive and often can break the owner's bank. Then too some Benz products are assembled in the USA; my understanding their quality is not up to the same level as German constructed vehicles.

Whats the new WRX like to drive? (I can see the way it looks and truthfully, I'm not mad on the shape.) My Dec 09 model is coming up due for replacement at the end of this year and some actual user comments would be welcome. When I can find the time, I'll have to start trawling the local dealerships, see what excites me. Hmm, I might buy another 20 year old Hilux... My old one was unbreakable.

(Thanks for loaning me the use of your column Mike. :) )

How can you possibly think of selling such a car, Mike, with the steering wheel on the wrong side?

"I wouldn't describe the RAV4 as bigger than the Merc, perhaps a more usefully shaped trunk, but not bigger."

Whoops, you're right - I was thinking of an older model - the RAV4 has extended it's wheelbase by 10" and overall length by around 20" through it's life.


It's definitely a WRX- one with more immediate torque than my '04 and, in general more power. Overall, it feels a bit more refined- quieter, smoother, a more even power curve as it accelerates, all of which are improvements to my mind. But the steering feels a bit too refined and assisted and I don't think the new one has the same immediate road feel that my '04 had.

At high speeds, oddly enough, it feels wilder than my '04, but that might be that the 1.8 ran out of oomph sooner than the 2.5 and I'm still adjusting to having a lot more power available.

All in all, I think it's still a winner, even if it came to me in somewhat sudden and shocking circumstances.

I would imagine that the differences between your '09 and my old '04 are larger than the differences between your '09 and CPT Slow.

A trailer and tow bar for the Merc would have been a cheaper option ;-)

I will never buy anything with money I don't own and I don't know what is a credit score.
And I don't know which is worse of the two facts!

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